When I was a boy I asked a question to my parents doubtless raised millions of times by the innocent young to their elders: “If Jesus was crucified, why do they call it Good Friday?” Good question.
In this era of growing cultural commercialism swallowing the meaning of holy days into secular holidays and religious feasts into commercial festivals (witness Christmas, though perhaps last year saw the slightest of pullbacks) Holy Week has maintained its meaning for the most part. Solemnity still reigns.
One of the best sermons I ever heard was a few years back at Christmas. While many expect a bright and cheery talk, the pastor starkly reminded the parishioners that “the wood of the manger is the wood of the Cross.” Christ humbly assumed a human nature and later died for our redemption. It wasn’t pretty — Roman executions were perhaps the most brutal in history — and we all share in the fault because Jesus died to redeem all sin. While today we commemorate a horrible event, we see the good in it which leads to the hope of the Resurrection on Sunday. Though victim, Christ wins the day. That is the “good.”
Here are some reflections on the meaning of Good Friday. First, an excerpt from a reflection by Pope John Paul II, from April 13, 2001, at the end of The Good Friday Way of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome:
“Christ became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (cf. Phil 2:8):
We have just concluded the Via Crucis which, every year, sees us gathered on the evening of Good Friday in this place, filled with intense Christian memories. We have followed the steps of the Innocent One, unjustly condemned, keeping our eyes on his adorable face: a face offended by human malice but full of the light of love and forgiveness.
Truly distressing are the dramatic events involving Jesus of Nazareth! In order to restore fullness of life to man, the Son of God humbled himself in the most abject way. But from his Death, freely chosen, life springs forth. Scripture says: oblatus est quia ipse voluit — he gave himself up because he so wished. His is an extraordinary testimony of love, fruit of an obedience without compare, carried to the point of the total giving of himself. …
How can we take our eyes away from Jesus as he dies on the Cross? His battered face disturbs us. The Prophet says: “He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised” (Is 53:2-3).
On that face are concentrated the dark shadows of every suffering, every injustice, every violence inflicted on human beings throughout the course of history. But now, before the Cross, our everyday sorrows, and even death itself, appear clothed in the majesty of Christ abandoned and dying.
The face of the bleeding and crucified Messiah, reveals that, for the sake of love, God has allowed himself to become involved in the tormented chronicles of mankind. Ours is no longer a solitary suffering, because he has paid the price for us with his blood, shed to the last drop. He has entered into our suffering and broken through the barrier of our distraught tears.
In his death, all human life acquires meaning and value, as does death itself. From the Cross, Christ appeals to the personal freedom of men and women in every period of history and calls each one to follow him on the path of complete abandonment into the hands of God. He even makes us rediscover the mysterious fruitfulness of pain.
For a look at the importance of faith in the modern world and its impact on culture and even policy, Jennifer Marshall at The Heritage Foundation’s The Foundry poses these germane thoughts in today’s Morning Bell column. For those interested in the historical aspect of Good Friday, Linda Gradstein of AOL News reports that Simcha Jacobovici, the host of Naked Archeology on the History Channel, believes he’s found two of the nails used in Jesus’ crucifixion. Speaking of the History Channel, it repeats on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. the Ray Dowling’s acclaimed documentary The Real Face of Jesus?, which you can read more about here and here.
Who can forget The Passion of The Christ and the most realistic portrayal ever of a Roman execution? Jesus absorbed our sin manifest in physical suffering, so great is His love. That’s why today is “good.”